Did feds botch digital billboard safety study?

It has been over two years since the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) finished a study aimed at determining whether digital billboards are distracting to drivers.  And yet, the results of the study are still unknown, FHWA having said only that the results are still under internal review.

A recent investigative report by Fair Warning may shed some light on why FHWA has not released the study.  The group managed to obtain the study’s draft summary, which offered an interesting conclusion: drivers weren’t looking at the signs at all.  In fact, it found the average glance time at a digital billboard to be less than one-tenth of a second.

If accurate, the study’s results present a dilemma for the industry:  if drivers are ignoring the digital signs they may be no great threat to traffic safety, but for that very same reason the signs are worthless to advertisers.  After all, what message can be absorbed in less than a tenth of a second?

However, several traffic safety experts who were shown the unreleased summary said the results were implausible and the data likely flawed, given how much shorter the reported glance times were than those found in previous, similar studies involving static billboards.  So, it remains to be seen: are these signs distracting, or just digital blight on our roadways?